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Inaugural Gwynne-Vaughan medal recognises Birkbeck PhD students’ work

Aren Roukema has been awarded the inaugural medal for his notable contribution to the field of English and Humanities.

On Monday 1 July, at an event held by the Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS), Aren Roukema, a PhD student in the Department of English and Humanities, was presented with the first-ever Gwynne-Vaughan Medal by Dr Sarah Lee, Head of Research Strategy Support at Birkbeck. There were 20 entries for the competition that aims to highlight early career academics who have made significant contributions to their field through their research.

The medal was named after Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan – a prominent botanist and mycologist who was head of the botany department at the College in 1909. During the First World War, she took a break from academia to serve in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and then as Commandant of the Women’s Royal Air Force. She later returned to Birkbeck as a Professor of Botany – the College’s first female professor – and served as Head of the department from 1921 to 1939 and again from 1941 to 1944.

Dr Sarah Lee said:

“Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan was a remarkable woman and a true Birkbeck luminary. 2019 represents 100 years since she received her DBE for services to the war effort and education so in recognition of her achievements we felt she was the best person to name this medal after.”

The entries to the competition were judged by the Research Student Sub-Committee who agreed that all of the entries from PhD students across the College demonstrated a high quality of research. However it was Roukema’s monograph, Esotericism and Narrative: The Occult Fiction of Charles Williams (Brill, 2018) and his chapter “Naturalists in Ghost Land: Victorian Occultism and Science Fiction, which is included in The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875–1947 (Routledge, 2018) that was awarded the prize. While completing his PhD, Aren has acted as Editor of Correspondences: Journal for the Study of Esotericism and co-founded the London Science Fiction Research Community which is based at Birkbeck.

Aren Roukema commented: “I’m very honoured to have been awarded the Gwynne-Vaughan medal, not least because my research contributions sit side by side with some very high quality research and valuable contributions made by my PhD colleagues at Birkbeck. Winning the medal provides feelings of validation and affirmation that aren’t always easily encountered in the rather solitary life of a PhD researcher. I hope it will also help me move on to the next stage — whatever that might be — following my PhD.”

First runner-up was awarded to Ilaria Bucci, a first year PhD student from the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology and Alex Cook and Natalie Phillips (Lancer), both from the School of Science, received Highly Commended.

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